Local clergy members call police reform meetings ‘frustrating and disappointing’

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Clergy members are upset about Mayor Jim Strickland’s police reform announcement.

For weeks, they’ve been meeting with activists, the mayor and the police director to discuss police reform. The mayor said they’ve all come to a consensus, but one of the clergy members said that’s not true.

“I was a bit shocked,” Rev. Dr. J. Lawrence Turner of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church said. “We met Wednesday afternoon, and there was no mention of a press conference.”

Strickland laid out five reforms, which include fully adopting 8 Can’t Wait and working to give subpoena power to the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB).

But clergy members said they never fully agreed on those reforms.

“Those things that they announced, if we’re going to consider them outcomes at all, are very low-hanging fruit,” Turner said.

In a statement signed by several clergy members, they called the meetings “frustrating and disappointing.”

Rev. Turner said there were several disagreements behind closed doors, particularly when it came to 8 Can’t Wait, a list of policies made to reduce police brutality.

“You come out and say we’re aligned with 8 Can’t Wait, that calls for a ban on chokeholds, and then you can’t really agree in a meeting that that’s something that you’re willing to do, to go out and have a press conference doesn’t really seem honest,” Turner said.

The statement goes on to say the administration demonstrated “a lack of courage and appetite for making Memphis truly more equitable for all.”

They go on to say, “What was dressed up for the public … as ‘reform’ was, in [their] opinion, reinforcement of the status quo.”

“This is going to take more than a few meetings,” Turner said. “It’s going to take more than the people who were in that room in order to reimagine what policing will look like for Memphis.”

After being asked about the disappointment from local clergy, Mayor Strickland gave WREG the following statement:

“I share this group of clergy’s disappointment. After meeting with the undersigned group of pastors collectively for about 12 hours over five meetings, they brought no new concrete solutions to the table, unlike the Black Lives Matters Memphis group I met with for one hour earlier this week who brought dozens of written, actionable suggestions. A couple of the listed pastors did make oral recommendations individually, but it was unclear if all the pastors were recommending them, and they were not adopted by the group. Those recommendations were to:

                -Prohibit the use of a chokehold even if the life of the officer was in danger

                -Prohibit firing a gun into a vehicle even if the life of an officer or citizen was in danger

                -Prohibit the use of tear gas or rubber bullets under any circumstances

The list does not include all of pastors who attended the meetings, and of the pastors listed, only two of them attended all five meetings and most only attended one or two meetings.

Our group, organized by DeVante Hill, agreed to focus our discussions on police reforms, and we found consensus in seven areas. Our administration agreed to:

  1. Implementation of the “8 Can’t Wait” rules
  1. MPD Ban on no-knock search warrants

MPD agrees to ban no-knock search warrants.

  1. Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) Improvements

Our administration will locate additional funding within the budget to increase funding for CLERB marketing and communications, training for staff and board members, and also hire an additional part-time resource for CLERB. Additionally, we agree to review adding CLERB receiving subpoena power as part of the state legislative agenda.

  1. Posting of CLERB and Civil Service Board Openings

Our administration will post CLERB and Civil Service Board Openings on www.memphistn.gov.

  1. Receive recommendations for expanding MPD Implicit Bias Training

MPD has provided current implicit bias training to meeting the attendees and have requested recommendations on how to improve our training.

  1. Officer Accountability

Administration agreed to enter discussions with the Memphis Police Association on how to enhance officer accountability with respect to excessive use of force. We also agreed to create an electronic system to store records for violations of the excessive force policies to improve transparency and accountability.

I also said yesterday our initial meetings may have concluded, but the discussion and our work in the area of police reform is far from over. We will continue to work every day to do better and to be better, and the community discussion will be broadened to include more people.”

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